Stress has a bad wrap in media and daily conversation. When we are feeling frazzled, overwhelmed, or burdened we tend to say “I am stressed.” While this is not inaccurate, it blurs the definition of what stress actually is and how it can be helpful to us.
Stress, in a nutshell, is our response to life. This includes not just those challenging moments, but also ones that give us joy, elation, and satisfaction. Marriage, buying a new home, and having a child are events that most people would label ‘positive’, yet these are also some of the most ‘stressful’ events we can encounter in our lives.
Rather than being a response to perceived ‘negative’ events, stress is our body’s way of telling us that something is happening that is impacting us and we may need to take action around self-care. Stress motivates us and, without it, we would not be able to get out of bed in the morning. However, prolonged stress can be detrimental to overall health and wellbeing, leading to physical conditions like ulcers and high blood pressure, as well as anxiety and/or depression.
It is important to be mindful of your body’s reaction to stress (which again can come from both ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ events). Some people hold stress in their body and experience tightness in their chest, shoulders, jaw, or stomach. Others experience racing, catastrophic thoughts. Others isolate and retreat from their social connections and supports. Whatever your stress signs are, it is important to be mindful of what your self is trying to tell you (i.e., “I am stressed!”) and take appropriate steps to moderate the detrimental impact of this. Action to mitigate the effects of stress can include:
- Physical activity (walking, swimming, organized sports, yoga, exercise classes)
- Acceptance and surrender, rather than fighting or controlling what is creating stress
- Check out your perception – it may not be accurate
- Talk with others
- Set appropriate boundaries and be assertive about needs
- Gratitude (focus on what is working rather than what feels like it is not)
- Relaxation (deep breathing, muscle relaxation, etc.)
- Hobbies that you enjoy
- Spending time doing something fun
- Taking a step back and focusing on your self rather than jumping into action around a situation causing stress
- Ongoing individual or group therapy for processing
- Sit. For 5, 20, or 60 minutes
- Use the Serenity Prayer or a meaningful mantra, quote, verse that is grounding and soothing
That ‘stressful’ event or time of year does not have to be. A feeling of stress is a source of information and, over time, you can learn to listen to it and embrace the message.